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Perfume In Ancient Times

ED Origin Technology Co.,Ltd | Updated: Nov 18, 2017

Perfume has had a glorious and sweet-smelling past that dates back to the dawn of recorded history. The word itself is Latin and derives from per meaning through and fumun or smoke. Perfumes were originally meant to emulate nature’s pleasant aromas. Natural oils were extracted from plants and became the main components of the perfumes of the ancient world. The oils were extracted, pressed, steamed and then burned in order to scent the surrounding air.

Now, years after the first whiff of a crafted scent wafted past the nose of a human, the art of perfume manufacturing has become a global multi-billion dollar industry, and the scientific process of making perfume has not only evolved, but it’s been refined and improved as much as any other industry and practice. This article delves into the rich history of perfume creation and provides the ultimate industry guide to mastering the art of perfume manufacturing, from the process of extraction, aging and all the ins and outs of developing a marketable, timeless scent.

Perfume in the ancient world

Perfumes are mentioned in the Bible referring to Three Wise Men carrying gifts of myrrh and frankincense to bestow upon the baby Jesus. The ancient Egyptian culture is rife with references to the use of scented oils and perfumes as evidenced in hieroglyphics and written papyrus records. It had many diverse uses. For religious rituals, they burned an incense called kypi, which was comprised of henna, myrrh, cinnamon and juniper. They also made aromatic body lotions from the liquid resulting from soaking aromatic wood, gum and resin in water and oil. Fragrance was an integral aspect of the embalming process. Singular deities became associated with specific scents and the word they used to mean perfume is translated as “fragrance of the gods.”

The use of perfume spreads to the ancient Greeks, Romans and early Europeans

The art of making perfume spread from ancient Greece, to Rome and then to the Orient and Far East. It reached Europe via the Crusaders during the 13th century when they returned from Palestine bearing gifts of perfume samples, which they dispersed throughout England, Italy and France. Europeans first used fragrance for what they believed were its healing properties. Seventeenth-century physicians treated plague victims by covering up their mouths and noses with leather pouches containing pungent cloves, cinnamon, and other spices. They believed this action would protect them from further contagion.

France’s King Louis XIV used so much perfume that those close to him dubbed him “the perfume king.” He not only used it on his person, it was present everywhere in both his court where there was always a floral pavilion and throughout his royal palace where decorative bowls filled with dried flowers and fragrances freshened the air.

Guests visiting the French royal palace bathed in rose petals and goat’s milk. Perfume permeated clothing, furniture, walls and even cutlery. The Grasse region in southern France became a leading producer of perfume, as it was an area where many flowering plant varieties flourished. Scents in England were often concealed within jewelry, particularly lockets and the hollow heads of canes for private ‘sniff’ moments.

19th century marketing and production of perfume

The mass marketing of perfume began in the mid 1800s and coincided with the introduction of synthetic chemicals. The very first synthetic perfume was made from nitric acid and benzene and called, not surprisingly, nitrobenzene. This mixture had aromatic top notes of almond and was often used in the popular scented soaps of the day. In 1868, an Englishman named William Perkin created a fragrance that smelled like freshly mown hay by synthesizing coumarin, which is derived from the South American tonka bean.

Other advances included synthetic violet and vanilla developed by Ferdinand Tiemann at the University of Berlin and an alcohol called citronellol, which was created by American, Francis Despard Dodge. This synthetic compound was made from citronella oil and contained aromatic notes of sweet pea, lily of the valley, narcissus, and hyacinth.

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